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COVID Postponements, Cancellations Present Challenge to Sportsbooks

COVID Postponements, Cancellations Present Challenge to Sportsbooks article feature image

Scott Taetsch/Getty Images. Pictured: MT&T Stadium in Baltimore.

Since the beginning of time, sportsbooks and bookmakers have built their systems of adjusting to situations that change the line. They were seemingly prepared for any combination of players playing or not playing and punching into their algorithm.

Then came COVID. It was something they’ve never contemplated.

Star players out, yes, but also whole position groups getting assailed — most notably, a team’s first and second quarterback going into protocol and a team being left with a third option, someone who might have never taken an NFL snap or might have had only a few weeks on the team’s roster.

For sportsbooks, for bookmakers and bettors, COVID not only changed the world. It changed their world.

Earlier this week, COVID protocol took out Washington Football Team’s first two QB options — Taylor Heinecke and Kyle Allen — and gave us Garrett Gilbert.

The market originally determined that the move to QB3 was worth two points — as the Eagles went from a 6.5 point favorite to 8.5. The game closed at -9.5/-10 and the Eagles, of course, won by 10.

On Thursday, COVID protocol shelved the New Orleans Saints two options, Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian. That leaves them with rookie Ian Book set to take his very first NFL snap on Monday Night Football.

The game was pulled off the board as oddsmakers contemplated the adjustment.

“I mean, I had to remind myself who Ian Book was,” Super books executive vice president Jay Kornegay said of the Notre Dame quarterback who was drafted this year in the fourth round by the Saints. “I’m sure some of our bettors were doing the same.”

The Dolphins were 3-point underdogs at the Superbook early Thursday morning. Shortly after the COVID news of the first two quarterbacks going down and Book starting, the game was shifted to a pick’em.

It’s now just the bookmaker’s job to go deeper in the depth chart than they usually would have, but PointsBet‘s director of trading Jay Croucher said he’s had 18 months of practice.

“It’s our job to figure out what the difference is between Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum to Nick Mullens,” Croucher said. “Quarterback is often the easier thing to figure out. We found that there was basically no difference between Mayfield and Keenum and then Mullens gets a bit more difficult.”

How are sportsbooks adjusting lines due to COVID?@darrenrovell talked with @PointsBetUSA’s head of trading @CroucherJD to get an inside look.

— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) December 23, 2021

Since COVID information doesn’t come out as clearly as injury information, bookmakers and the sharpest bettors are often in a race to see who can compromise whom first.

“We’ve always used Twitter, but it’s now the main source of information and we’ve ramped up how closely we pay attention to it,” Kornegay said. “We are also guided by our regular players. Maybe we don’t move fast enough and they beat us. We’ll then use that to affect us going forward.”

But Croucher said he’s ready when the tweets hit.

“It’s like Joel Embiid,” Croucher said. “When Joel Embiid is questionable every single game, we just have to figure out a line based on what percentage he plays, or if the Kansas City Chiefs get back Kelce or Hill or both. We just make educated guesses at that point.”

How do bettors react to games that shift due to COVID issues?

We went to Twitter to ask.

Two in five (40%) said it scares them away from betting that game, while 32% say they just wait longer to bet. Then 20% said how they bet it depends on what player or players were gone, while only 6% said they liked to bet it more with the line changes due to COVID.

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